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Thirteen Year Old American Negro Girl

Yellow Cardigan, Red and White T-Shirt, Jeans
(Clinton-Sherman AFB, Oklahoma 1959)

My face, as foreign to me as a mask,
allows people to believe they know me.
Thirteen Year Old American Negro Girl,
headlines would read if I was newsworthy.
But that's just the top-of-the-iceberg me.
I could spend hours searching the mirror
for clues to my truer identity,
if someone didn't pound the bathroom door.
You can't see what the mirror doesn't show:
for instance, that, after I close my book
and turn off my lamp, I say to the dark:
Give me a message I can give the world.
Afraid there's a poet behind my face,
I beg until I've cried myself to sleep.

Marilyn Nelson

Cimarron Review

Summer 2012

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